How many people do you know who identify as Christian, yet lack any real sense of living for Christ? We all know, and pray we are not, the type. They call themselves Christians if asked what their religious preference is, but when you examine their lives, there’s little evidence of this.
An ABC News poll says that 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christian.1 That is a staggering number. When you consider the issues of our nation such as poverty, racial strife, political division, divorce rates, unwed pregnancies, and the list could continue, it is head-scratching to consider that over 8 out of 10 Americans would say they are Christian. How can this be the case?
We live in a culture that’s guilty for knowing things about God without any real love for God. Many people can recite things they have heard about God, or learned growing up. People can speak about God being powerful, all-knowing, loving, forgiving, or any number of other qualities. But how many of those people actually love God? How many of the 83% of Americans who claim to be Christian have any affections for the Christ of Christianity? How many love Jesus?
Evidence of Fellowship and Love
In Matthew 7, Jesus makes it clear this issue is a real problem. In verses 15-20, Jesus is coming near the end of the Sermon on the Mount; he warns those claiming to be something, but not bearing the fruit of what they claim to be.
Healthy trees bear good fruit. Diseased trees bear bad fruit. You will recognize who is real by their fruits. This emphasis is also covered in Luke 6. There (vv. 43-45), Jesus highlights that a tree is always known by the kind of fruit it produces. Figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor grapes from a bramble bush. Whatever the tree is will determine the kind of fruit it bears.
Genuine Christians will bear corresponding fruit. There will be evidence that we are in Christ.
In the same way, genuine Christians will bear corresponding fruit. There will be evidence that we are in Christ.
One of the greatest is our desire for fellowship with God; we want to draw close to him. Another fruit is radical, life-giving joy. As we walk in fellowship with him, we experience the highest and most satisfying joy available to our hearts (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11). Another fruit we exhibit is love for Christ, genuine affection for him. We see him as the treasure above all treasures, worth losing and leaving everything to attain (Matthew 13:44; Philippians 3:7-9).
When you look at America, do you see 83% of the people overflowing with those fruits? Do you see love for Christ, abundant joy, or eagerness for fellowship with God? No, you don’t. That is because we have made Christianity less about loving God and more about knowledge of God.
Evidence of the Gospel
Again, in Matthew 7:21-23, following the tree and fruit teaching, Jesus continues by explaining how many on the Last Day will appeal to their beliefs (“Lord, Lord”) and behaviors (“Did we not…”), only to hear the key was knowing him.
Knowing Christ and being known by him is how we inherit the kingdom of God.
Beliefs and behaviors alone (“alone” is the key word here) cannot save. Unfortunately, we often promote these two things as “the gospel” in our churches:“Believe the right beliefs, and you’ll be saved. Behave and get your life together, and you will be saved.”
But these are false. Beliefs and behaviors matter, but in their right context. Beliefs matter because we are not free to make up views of God and dictate our versions of morality. Behaviors matter because they are evidence of what kind of tree we are. They are the fruit of salvation, not the root.
What is the root of the gospel? Jesus came into the world to pay the debt we could never pay. He died on the cross as our substitute and resurrected three days later. Our sins were atoned for through his shed blood. He drank dry the righteous wrath of God at Calvary’s hill. We become recipients of this amazing love and grace when, upon hearing this good news, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see it, and in seeing it, we put our faith in Christ alone.
This not only gives us union with God (legal status change), but communion with God (relationship status change). The fruit of being a Christian is not that you have believed the right facts of the Bible—for even the demons do that (James 2:19). But true Christians exhibit the fruit of loving the God who saved us and show the joy that is found only in walking with him.
The Fruit Tells the Truth
Thomas Watson, the puritan preacher of old, once wrote, “Knowledge which is not applied will only light a man to hell.” There are too many in our country today who profess to be Christians, but their lives do not show fruit, for a tree is known by its fruit.
Are you and I exhibiting the fruit of a true Christian?
- Let the absence of these fruits send you to Christ. Beseech him to show you mercy for the lack of fruit, and plead for his grace to do this work in your heart.
- If you are in Christ, make fellowship with God your highest priority. Seek him daily. As we abide in him, we will bear much fruit (John 15:4-5).
This article originally appearered on UnlockingTheBible.org. Used with permission.
Erik Reed is the pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. His passion is to lead the local church to show Jesus as incomparably glorious. He loves preaching, leadership, and pouring into other leaders. Erik is married with three children. He is a graduate of Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in Religious Studies and of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a MDiv in Pastoral Studies. Erik is a regular contributor to LifeWay Pastors.
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com
Publication date: March 29, 2017